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Is Buying a used live steam loco cheaper than building one?

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Simon Robinson 410/08/2019 16:24:57
45 forum posts

For many years I’ve been interested in either buying or building a coal fired live steam loco. Either 3.5” or 5” gauge mainly for personal use but might consider running it at shows.

While eBay can be quite expensive if you are lucky it’s possible to get a used 3.5” live coal fired loco for around £2000 as a buy it now with some work required to get it going and boiler certified. Quite a bit more for a 5” gauge.

As for building one as a beginner I do not have a suitable lathe or milling machine and you can easily spend at least £1000 for a reasonable used lathe suitable for 3.5” gauge and able to machine ferrous metals and probably the same price for a milling machine. Then you need to learn to use it and have plenty of space to accommodate the machines. The sheet copper suitable for a 3.5” boiler can probably cost over £150. Then there is time to build the loco which can run into years.

So I could imagine by the time you have bought the machinery, plans, materials like copper, silver solder, brass etc you’d not have much change from £5000.

Any thoughts on this?

Mike Poole10/08/2019 16:46:55
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2111 forum posts
51 photos

Some people enjoy the building and have little interest in running a model, some just want run a model and enjoy the whole scene and some enjoy building and running their models. The cost to build is significant but if you don’t buy everything new then the workshop equipment cost is largely recoverable. If you are starting as a workshop novice then it would make sense to build some smaller models, perhaps some Stuart Turner or similar, this would get your skills up and maybe you would find out if building is really for you. If running a model is what you want to do then buying a built machine will have you running in the shortest time, building your own will typically have a lead time of a few years before you are running. Having workshop facilities is useful for repair and maintenance even if you buy a built model. Of course you could do both and start a build and run a ready made alongside building your own which would avoid the long wait until yours is built.

Mike

Speedy Builder510/08/2019 17:15:36
1819 forum posts
128 photos

If you were going to buy a ready built loco, JOIN a CLUB first. talk to the members there. Get their boiler inspector to either inspect the model or at least give you an opinion on second hand boilers. Certificates like other documents are easily forged and leave you with an expensive repair / replacement bill.

J Hancock10/08/2019 17:17:53
314 forum posts

If possible, join a local ME Club, get some idea of the type/ size of locomotive you would like to run before

making an expensive 'mistake'.

Unless you are very fortunate indeed , it is likely you will need to use a Club track anyway.

Baz10/08/2019 17:35:52
255 forum posts

In my very humble opinion it is much cheaper to buy something ready built than to equip a workshop and make a loco yourself from scratch. I base this on £1500 for a lathe with a bit of tooling, double that if you want a decent Myford, most probably £1000 for a milling machine, then you will need vices cutters boring heads angle plates, the list goes on and on. I personally enjoy building far more than running plus have been in industry all my life so I know what I need and also know what I am looking at in the way of machinery. It also depends on how much space you have available, a loco can live on a bench in the garage, the workshop will need the whole garage. Please join a club before you do anything and talk to the members, a years club subs is money very well spent.

EdH10/08/2019 18:01:08
35 forum posts
25 photos

If you are going to buy a ready made loco and you don’t have much knowledge about them then make sure to see it running and have someone who fully understands locos with you to check it out.

I worked on a loco that had been bought from a reputable dealer many years ago and at the time the buyer did not have much experience of them so any running test would make it look like it works but having seen it recently I found out that it was badly made. The stroke was supposed to be 2.25” but the cranks were machined for 2.00” stroke. The valves were moved in a bridle but the bridled fitted the steam chest so tightly that it cut off the steam at around 25% of the stroke. The axles were cockeyed across the frame. One valve was 0.125” too short and the other 0.0625” as someone possibly the original builder had tried to correct the slanted cutting of the valve ports. One expansion link had a gouge in it on the inside running surface. The eccentric shafts were all different lengths.

The list goes on and on but it did run if very poorly but at the time the buyer was unaware of this.

Another chassis had been purchased to use as a replacement but this was just as bad so beware before parting with any money. There are good locos out there but you’ll need experience to find them.

Steambuff10/08/2019 18:26:21
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499 forum posts
6 photos

Why not look at a Loco kit .... Polly Engineering for example.

Not cheap but you will get the support (UK based) if you have an issue.

Dave

Edited By Steambuff on 10/08/2019 18:27:26

Old Crock10/08/2019 19:29:40
24 forum posts
5 photos

Simon, before deciding on buy or build give some thought to maintenance.

Unlike a car that you can give to the local garage to repair, or if you do it yourself go to the main dealer or after market for parts, you cannot do that with a live steam loco.

Whether it's buy or build things will wear out, drop off or leak. You need the knowledge and equipment to keep it running. That is where a club is so important. Advice and help available when needed.

Of course if you build it you will gain that knowledge and experience but it may takes years.

How well equipped is your workshop, not just lathe and mill but taps, dies, various drill sets, reamers, etc.

John

Dave Halford10/08/2019 19:55:02
462 forum posts
4 photos

A new commercial built 5" running is 15K

Neil Wyatt10/08/2019 20:12:37
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16568 forum posts
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75 articles

Worth joining a club, not least to get an idea of what is involved in a build and deciding if you want to take on what will be a multi-year project. Plus you will get advcie and backup for when you get stuck.

They can also help ensure you don't buy a lemon secondhand. Just because someone is selling in good faith, doesn't mean they are aware of all the pitfalls that might stop you getting a boiler test ticket, for example.

Neil

Zan10/08/2019 23:33:22
98 forum posts
2 photos

As old crock says above it’s not just about buying it and running it. Something is always going wrong on them and a workshop will be needed to correct problems often by making new parts. But don’t let this put you off. Many clubs have good workshop facilities where some of this maintenance can take place, and there will be helping hands with advice.

Recently I purchased a good looking big but basic 5” tender loco. It ran beautifully on the static test bed where it came from, fully protected with a new boiler certificate although it did need a lot of tlc to get it to look good,( reflected in the price it needed a lot more detailing for me to really like it) As soon as I got it on the track, it was a different matter. It was terrible! A few new parts were made and fitted, but the result was only a marginal improvement so it went back for a full refund.

buying from eBay is risky. Here I would have been left with a loco which needed a major overhaul, the very thing I was avoiding the vendor may not accept a return

however, many in my club have purchased very sound locos which run well

Simon Robinson 410/08/2019 23:55:15
45 forum posts
Posted by Steambuff on 10/08/2019 18:26:21:

Why not look at a Loco kit .... Polly Engineering for example.

Not cheap but you will get the support (UK based) if you have an issue.

Dave

Edited By Steambuff on 10/08/2019 18:27:26

I’ve just had a look and they look really good and relatively cheap for a 5” gauge loco kit. It would be the best of both worlds! The enjoyment of building it but without need for lathes and milling machines and a running loco in a relatively short time.

Simon Robinson 410/08/2019 23:58:20
45 forum posts
Posted by Neil Wyatt on 10/08/2019 20:12:37:

Worth joining a club, not least to get an idea of what is involved in a build and deciding if you want to take on what will be a multi-year project. Plus you will get advcie and backup for when you get stuck.

They can also help ensure you don't buy a lemon secondhand. Just because someone is selling in good faith, doesn't mean they are aware of all the pitfalls that might stop you getting a boiler test ticket, for example.

Neil

I think I will join a club especially with the amount of money involved in either buying or building its good to get advice and help.

Thanks

larry phelan 111/08/2019 09:25:07
502 forum posts
11 photos

I thought the whole attraction and idea was to build your own model ?

I do not have either the skill nor the patience to build one, but I admire those who do.

However, as others have pointed out, you do need a fair bit of gear to do so.

SillyOldDuffer11/08/2019 10:51:26
4711 forum posts
1010 photos
Posted by Simon Robinson 4 on 10/08/2019 16:24:57:

...

While eBay can be quite expensive if you are lucky it’s possible to get a used 3.5” live coal fired loco for around £2000 as a buy it now with some work required to get it going and boiler certified. ...

With luck it might work out OK but I'd be nervous of "some work required to get it going and boiler certified". That caveat covers a multitude of sins, from 'worn-out, fit for static display only' to 'botched build too expensive to fix'. Or it might describe an estate sale where the relatives just want to dispose of an unwanted engine that's in good condition but they don't know anything about it and can't find the certificate. Possibly the engine was built as an accurate display model and, though it could be steamed, was never intended to be. If the provenance is lost, it will be difficult to get a certificate. Bit of a minefield.

I think the advice to join a club is excellent. Talking to people who've built and run engines and seen a wide range of them in action on a track can only help. They might also put you in touch with a seller.

The notion that second-hand is the cheapest way to get a steam loco is probably true because many locos consume a lot of skilled time in the building which is rarely reflected in the second-hand value. Unfortunately, it's a risky way to get started. A second-hand bargain engine will be a money pit if anything more than trivial remedial work is needed, especially if you have to pay someone else to mend it or have to equip a workshop and learn how to use it. With few exceptions parts are bespoke and spares can't be ordered off the shelf.

Electric is the cheapest way to get on the track; most of the innards are standard parts, motors, controller, battery etc. An effective outer shell is relatively easy to make from MDF, and they are straightforward to drive. Most of the costly complexities of a steam locomotive are avoided and they are good fun. Not as drop-dead sexy as steam of course. In my book steam locomotives are in the same league as fine clocks and beautiful ladies for sheer attractiveness.

Dave

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